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Philadelphia Flyers Summer 2018 25 Under 25: Introduction and honorable mentions

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It’s that time again, as we begin our summer deep-dive on the Flyers’ young talent with a look at those that just missed the cut.

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It’s officially August, which means it’s time for one of the highlights of our offseason here at Broad Street Hockey: the Philadelphia Flyers Top 25 Under 25 series.

Now in its fifth year on the site, the 25 Under 25 has become our primary series in which we take long looks at the young talent currently in the Flyers’ organization. Why 25? For one, it’s a nice, round-ish number. Additionally, to steal from our introduction to the series last summer, it’s an age at which an NHL player often starts to become something of a finished product:

25 is sort of a landmark age in the NHL — it’s typically the age at which a player is seven or so years removed from being drafted, and one could argue it’s the age at which a player is really in the prime of his career. Whether the guy in question is a franchise cornerstone, a solid NHL depth guy, or an AHLer, by the time he’s 25 we’ll pretty much know what he is as a player.

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So, until a player reaches that mark, guessing how their careers might play out is a fun exercise in speculation. As such, we’ll be spending roughly the next five weeks breaking down the 25 players who made our final ranking, one post at a time. And with the amount of talent that’s been added to the pipeline this summer, it should be the most exciting version yet. (Not to mention, the one that’s the most fun for us to write!)

There have been some notable departures since that version last summer — in particular, Sean Couturier had his final go-round in August of last year when he checked in at No. 2, while Shayne Gostisbehere bowed out after also finishing second in this past winter’s update.

But like there are every summer, there have been additions to the Flyers’ pipeline since then that will shake things up, not to mention that players’ stocks have risen and dropped since that January update. Where does everyone stand now? We’ll spend the next few weeks trying to figure that out, one by one, with some occasional roundtables mixed in where we as a masthead get together and discuss why we ranked guys certain ways, who should be higher/lower, etc.

We’ll formally get the rankings going tomorrow (Thursday) at No. 25. We’ve got some honorable mentions to name before that, but let’s briefly re-introduce the series and talk about what’s new this time around.

The panel and voting

Our voting panel submitted 15 ballots that gave us our final rankings. 14 of those belong to our various masthead members: me (Kurt), Bill, Brad, Craig, Jake, Jason, Joe, John, Kelly, Kyle, Maddie, Mike, Steph, and Steve.

All of our voters received a ballot consisting of the 51 players under Flyers team control that are under the age of 25 as of September 15, which is the cutoff date that determines a player’s NHL draft eligibility. Each voter’s task was to pick the 25 players with the most value to them right now — and how the voter determines “value” is entirely up to him or her — and rank them from 1 (best) to 25 (least-best). Ballots are then scored by reverse points, meaning the player who is ranked No. 1 gets 25 points, the player ranked No. 2 gets 24 points, the guy at No. 25 gets 1 point, etc. The point totals from all ballots are then put together and scored, and the end result is our final 25 Under 25 ranking.

The fifteenth and final vote was that of you, the community. A couple of weeks ago, we asked you all to take a second and submit a Top 25 Under 25 of your own. Thank you to each of you who participated, and there were quite a lot of you: we received 1,047 ballots, and even after tossing a few that were obvious joke ballots and/or ballots that didn’t rank all the way up to 25, that left us with 1,016 ballots, all of which were totaled up and pointed the same way that was described in the above paragraph. Those ballots were turned into one composite ballot, which counts alongside each of the ballots of our staff. We’ll provide some additional data on how the community voted for each player that makes the Top 25 as each respective post comes up.

The ballot

As there is with every edition of the rankings, some changes have been made to the eligible lineup since the last time we did this. In particular, here are the five guys who were eligible last time around (in winter 2018) that were no longer eligible to be chosen:

  • Two players aged their way out of the rankings, both of whom happen to be former Union College hockey players: current Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere (who was No. 2 last time around) and Phantoms forward Mike Vecchione (No. 15).
  • Another player — Phantoms forward Cole Bardreau — turned 25 last week, meaning his time to make the ballot has come and gone, though he never did in his time with the organization. [Ed. note: Bardreau was, erroneously (by me), left on the community ballot list, since he was 24 when we actually put said ballot together. He did not make the top 25.]
  • University of Michigan winger Cooper Marody, who checked in at No. 22 back in January, was traded to the Oilers in February for a third-round pick.
  • Finally, 2016 sixth-round pick Anthony Salinitri was not signed to an entry-level deal, meaning the Flyers lost his rights this past June. He never cracked the rankings.

So there will be at least three new faces to the rankings this time around. Among the folks fighting for those spots will be the eight guys that have been added to the ballot. Those eight players, or course, are those of the Flyers’ 2018 NHL draft class: Joel Farabee, Jay O’Brien, Adam Ginning, Jack St. Ivany, Wyatt Wylie, Samuel Ersson, Gavin Hain, and Markus Westfalt.

That all leaves us exactly 50 names on this year’s ballot. Here are those names, grouped by the main league each player played in during the 2017-18 hockey season:

NHL: Robert Hagg (D), Travis Konecny (F), Scott Laughton (F), Taylor Leier (F), Nolan Patrick (F), Ivan Provorov (D), Travis Sanheim (D)
AHL: Nicolas Aube-Kubel (F), Radel Fazleev (F), Mark Friedman (D), Tyrell Goulbourne (F), Oskar Lindblom (F), Danick Martel (F), Samuel Morin (D), Philippe Myers (D), Anthony Stolarz (G), Mikhail Vorobyev (F), Reece Willcox (D)
OHL: Connor Bunnaman (F), Morgan Frost (F), Isaac Ratcliffe (F), Matthew Strome (F), Maksim Sushko (F)
QMJHL: Pascal Laberge (F), German Rubtsov (F)
WHL: Carter Hart (G), Carsen Twarynski (F), Wyatt Wylie (D)
NCAA: Wade Allison (F), Terrance Amorosa (D), David Drake (D), Wyatt Kalynuk (D), Tanner Laczynski (F), Brendan Warren (F)
USHL: Noah Cates (F), Joel Farabee (F), Gavin Hain (F), Jack St. Ivany (D), Matej Tomek (G)
U.S. High School: Jay O’Brien (F)
SHL (Sweden): David Bernhardt (D), Adam Ginning (D), Linus Hogberg (D), David Kase (F), Olle Lycksell (F), Felix Sandstrom (G), Markus Westfalt (F)
Superelit (Swedish Juniors): Samuel Ersson (G)
VHL (Russian Minors): Ivan Fedotov (G)
MHL (Russian Juniors): Kirill Ustimenko (G)

Honorable Mentions

With all of that said, we begin the countdown with five players who just missed out on the rankings.

No. 30: Maksim Sushko — LW, Owen Sound (OHL)
2017-18 season: 31 G, 29 A in 60 GP
Ranking in Winter 2018 25 Under 25: N/A (did not make top 25)
Votes Received: One at No. 22, one at No. 23
Community ranking: 27th

Our countdown begins with a player that came onto the scene for most prospect-observant Flyers fans in the most recent World Junior championships, wherein Sushko captained a Belarus team whose main goal in the tournament was to avoid being relegated from the championship tier. On that front, they were ultimately unsuccessful — they lost five of the six games they played and came in last in the 10-team tournament — but that was to no fault of Sushko, who posted eight points in six games and was clearly his team’s best player.

While the WJC was the highlight of Sushko’s year, the speedy winger did show meaningful progress with his other team, the OHL’s Owen Sound Attack. He nearly doubled his year-over-year point production, landing at an even point-per-game this past year after tallying 32 points in 54 games in his draft year. The Flyers clearly saw something in his skillset that they could work with when they took him in the fourth round in 2017, and you have to think they’re fairly pleased with his progress in his first post-draft year, particularly since they signed him to an entry-level deal last spring. Sushko will play one more year in the OHL before heading to Lehigh Valley, and the expectation will be that he really dominates the league this time around. If he does? The Flyers may have a player on their hands.

No. 29: Pascal Laberge — C/RW, Quebec (QMJHL)
2017-18 season: 17 G, 30 A in 64 GP
Ranking in Winter 2018 25 Under 25: N/A (did not make top 25)
Votes Received: One at No. 22, three at No. 24, one at No. 25
Community Ranking: 24th

The going has been tough for Laberge, the 2016 second-round pick who has never quite recovered from a massive setback he suffered early in his post-draft season. A vicious (and illegal) hit led to Laberge missing a good chunk of that season with a concussion, and he clearly wasn’t the same player upon returning to the ice, posting 32 points in 47 QMJHL games. Those hoping to see a bounce-back from the talented forward this past season were ultimately left disappointed; while Laberge’s scoring rates improved slightly, his 47 points in 64 games still weren’t even close to matching the production he posted in his draft year (68 in 56). For a guy who was seen by many as a first-round talent entering his draft (he was 18th in our 25 Under 25 that summer), the step back we’ve seen from Laberge, while obviously understandable and not entirely in his control, has been a shame to see.

Still, there are reasons for optimism for the future as Laberge gets going in Lehigh Valley this fall for his first full professional season. Laberge improved over the course of this past year, as his offensive performance ticked up after a midseason trade from Victoriaville to Quebec. Laberge still wasn’t quite where fans and observers were probably hoping to be following the trade (he had 27 points in 33 games), but it’s enough of an improvement from his numbers with Quebec that it lends credence to the idea that Laberge is getting better and closer to being his old self with some time. He’ll have to prove himself in this coming season as he tries to make a name for himself in a crowded Phantoms lineup, but there’s absolutely some skill to work with here. The Flyers just have to try and find it again.

No. 28: Connor Bunnaman — C, Kitchener (OHL)
2017-18 season: 27 G, 23 A in 66 GP
Ranking in Winter 2018 25 Under 25: N/A (did not make top 25)
Votes Received: On at No. 21, two at No. 23, one at No. 24
Community Ranking: 33rd

A 37-goal post-draft season with the Kitchener Rangers helped the Flyers’ 2016 fourth-rounder secure an entry-level contract and sort of put him on the map in a prospect pool that’s always looking for skilled goal-scorers. Unfortunately, Bunnaman remained fairly stagnant in his final year in juniors, as his goal total dipped from 37 to 27 and his overall scoring total fell from 52 to 50. Can Bunnaman rediscover that scoring touch this year as he tries to find a role in the Phantoms’ aforementioned crowded forward lineup? If he’s looking to secure a full-time lineup spot, he may need to.

No. 27: Carsen Twarynski — LW, Kelowna (WHL)
2017-18 season: 45 G, 27 A in 68 GP
Ranking in Winter 2018 25 Under 25: N/A (did not make top 25)
Votes Received: One at No. 19, one at No. 22, one at No. 24, one at No. 25
Community Ranking: 28th

Would you have guessed that, of every player on our ballot, no one had more regular-season goals in his respective league than Twarynski did? It’s true — no Flyer had more goals during his regular season than the 20-year old Calgary native and former junior teammate of Travis Sanheim. Now, there are a couple of obvious qualifiers to that fact that make it less impressive than it sounds at first glance: Twarynski played a full season’s worth of games in a junior league in which he was older than nearly everyone he was playing against. No one’s necessarily saying that this means huge things going forward.

But after a draft + 1 season that looked pretty similar to his draft season, some credit needs to be given to Twarynski, who most likely needed a meaningful step forward to secure an entry-level contract. For a guy who has speed and size but never figured to be that much of a “skill” player, him suddenly showing the ability to put pucks in the net had to be a welcome development for Twarynski and to the organization, which signed him to a deal last March. The push has really just begun for Twarynski — on a Phantoms roster that’s going to be very crowded, he’ll have to fight for every minute of ice time he gets. (I’m noticing a recurring trend here.) But there’s some reason for optimism, moreso than we probably would’ve suspected at this time last year.

No. 26: Linus Hogberg — D, Växjö Lakers (SHL)
2017-18 season: 2 G, 4 A in 42 GP
Ranking in Winter 2018 25 Under 25: N/A (did not make top 25)
Votes Received: One at No. 18, one at No. 22, three at No. 24, one at No. 25
Community Ranking: 30th

The last guy to miss our rankings is the only one of our honorable mentions that already has meaningful experience playing at a professional level. Hogberg, a fifth-round pick in 2016, has spent the better part of the past two seasons playing in Sweden’s top league with Växjö, posting two goals and eight assists across 77 games in those two seasons. Hogberg, who doesn’t turn 20 until this coming September, also got a chance to play for his country in the 2017-18 World Junior Championships, playing in all seven games for the eventual runners-up. Hogberg isn’t a flashy defenseman, but he’s got some size, he’s a smooth skater, and he’s a decent enough puckhandler that he won’t be a liability there.

According to EliteProspects, Hogberg’s current SHL contract runs through 2019-20, meaning he’ll most likely spend at least two more years in Sweden. That seems like a good amount of time for the Flyers to watch him hopefully develop a bit further, and he’ll (most likely) be offered an entry-level deal at that time. Hogberg certainly has some work to do and some things to improve upon (can he start showing some real offensive production?) if he’s going to make a name for himself in the Flyers’ extremely crowded long-term defensive picture. But a guy who’s shown that he can hang in a league full of players his senior, and who can be considered among the best young players at his position in that league, is always going to be one to watch out for.